November 19, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 45  

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Liberals to give boost to minimum wage

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

A campaign promise made by the Ontario Liberal government to raise the minimum wage is rumoured to be included in tomorrow’s throne speech, which would effectively clear its way for implementation.

“It is my understanding that the government is committed to increasing the general minimum wage from $6.85 to $8 an hour,” said Belinda Sutton, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

However, critics were divided as to whether the increase will actually benefit the economy and how students fit into the picture.

Gerry Mcartney, general manager of the London Chamber of Commerce, said the increase will have a “dramatic” effect on the province’s economy.

“[A wage increase] does have a debilitating effect on small businesses,” Mcartney said, adding wage earners who previously received $8 an hour might now demand a higher rate. “It’s a wage increase for the entire province, not just minimum wage earners.” The minimum wage rate should be based on the average rate of the province’s competitors, such as the provinces and states Ontario trades with, he said.

Mcartney added the government’s plan to phase the increase in over four years is commendable, as it will allow small businesses to include it in their financial planning. “It’s pleasant to see the government looking at the effect on small businesses,” he said. “It allows small businesses to budget for it.”

Sarah Blackstock, a spokesperson for the Income Security Advocacy Centre, one of the member organizations of the Ontario Needs A Raise Campaign, said she was disappointed the government was not taking bigger steps.

“We’re glad that the premier has recognized his responsibility,” she said. “However a raise to $8 an hour is far from adequate.”

Blackstock said the poverty line in Ontario $10 an hour and many Ontarians are struggling to even meet that. She took further issue with the implementation of the minimum wage increase, saying the increase is needed immediately and not over four years.

“Many students are living well below the poverty line,” she said.

“Cost of living to students is an issue,” said Adam Spence, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. “Even if minimum wage was increased, students will still find themselves in financial difficulty.”

Spence said financial aid, which the government has said it plans to restructure, is inadequate to meet students’ needs. Moreover, the wage increase could potentially affect the Ontario Student Assistance Program, he said.

The minimum wage has been frozen at $6.85 an hour since 1995.



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